French film brings dead president to big screen

French film brings dead president to big screen
By Charles Masters

Hollywood Reporter
02/16/05 00:03 ET

BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) – French movies rarely have taken the
country’s politicians as subject matter, but “Le Promeneur du Champ
de Mars” — screening in competition at the Berlin Film Festival —
breaks with that tradition, giving an often-intriguing glimpse of
the final months of President Francois Mitterrand.

Mitterrand heralded France’s first Socialist administration in 1981
and ruled uninterrupted until 1995. He died the following year of
prostate cancer, aged 79.

Based on a book by journalist Georges-Marc Benamou, “Le Promeneur” is
told through the interaction between the president and an idealistic
young reporter (played by Jalil Lespert) trying to fill the gaps in
the life of this most enigmatic of political figures.

Michel Bouquet delivers a masterly performance as Mitterrand, injecting
equal measures melancholic reflection and dry humor as he comes to
terms with his impending death and makes a final bid to polish his
political legacy. But despite the accuracy of this filmic portrait,
the movie no doubt will have limited appeal beyond those with a keen
interest in French political history.

The film’s director, Robert Guediguian, said the idea was to use
the master-pupil structure to illustrate a point about the failure
of socialism in France to be transmitted from one generation to
another. “The film is absolutely not about political power,” he said.

Guediguian is dismissive of the fact that his film fails to probe
many of the darker areas of Mitterrand’s life, the latter years of
which were marked by accusations of corruption. “To exercise power
is necessarily to compromise,” Guediguian said, arguing that this
happens regardless of political hue.

The film does examine the degree of Mitterrand’s support for the
wartime Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis. Guediguian
said much of what was said about Mitterrand was manipulated by his
right-wing opponents, and that allegations of anti-Semitism are
“completely unfounded.”

Another episode in the movie shows that the president had the young
journalist tailed, which echoes Mitterrand’s fairly casual use of
surveillance, including phone taps. “I don’t excuse it. It’s inherent
in power. There is no state that doesn’t have a secret service,”
Guediguian said.

Ultimately, what interests him is the disappearance of what he sees
as true socialism in France. “If you want socialism, there has to
be a rupture with capitalism,” Guediguian said. “And I say that even
here in Berlin.”

Next up for Guediguian is a movie that will reunite him with his
family roots in Armenia because it follows two people from the
Armenian diaspora returning from his hometown of Marseilles to the
land of their origins. The film will star regular collaborators Ariane
Ascaride and Gerard Meylan and is set to shoot in the summer.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter